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Jakarta Post

Virus fears spark Thailand prison riot

  • News Desk

    Agence France-Presse

Bangkok, Thailand   /   Mon, March 30, 2020   /   11:45 am
Virus fears spark Thailand prison riot This handout photo taken and released by Thailand Ministry of Justice on March 29, 2020 shows Buriram Prison after the prisoners' riot Buriram. - Dozens of prisoners broke furniture and smashed windows during a riot in a Thai jail on Sunday sparked by fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the facility. (Thailand Ministry of Justice via AFP/-)

Dozens of prisoners broke furniture and torched buildings during a riot in a Thai jail on Sunday sparked by fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the facility. 

During the violence some convicts escaped from the Buriram prison where more than 2,000 are held, the justice ministry said. Seven have been arrested. 

Local media showed footage of black smoke billowing from the prison's multiple blocks in the country's northeast, and a Corrections Department official said drones were deployed to investigate what weapons the prisoners were using. 

"There was a group of prisoners trying to escape and were creating chaos... which included burning down some facilities inside," said Narat Sawetana, director general of the Corrections Department. 

He added later that six prisoners had been injured in the melee by broken glass. More than 1,500 prisoners had to be evacuated before the rioting could be stopped. 

Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin confirmed that a group of inmates sentenced to life had started "agitating" other prisoners with rumors of a virus outbreak. 

"The fact is that none of the prisoners in Buriram were infected -- they only started this rumour to find some supporters," the minister said, adding that the cafeteria and visiting areas were among the facilities torched. 

Mental health workers were later deployed to assuage prisoners "after some rumors were spread" about a COVID-19 outbreak, Major General Akkaradej Pimonsri said.

"The situation is under control," he added.

Thailand has recorded 1,388 cases of the coronavirus, including seven deaths.

At least two prisoners in the country have caught the highly contagious virus.

In a bid to prevent outbreaks in jails, authorities have banned visitors and are quarantining new inmates for 14 days.

Similar panic over the coronavirus sparked a prison riot in the Colombian capital of Bogota last Sunday that killed 23 inmates.